A deist is a person who believes that God designed and created the world and governs it through natural laws that are inherent in everything. These natural laws can be discovered through observation, experience, and reasoning.
Deism is a religion based primarily on nature and reasoning, in contrast to other religions that are based on alleged “revelations” that come through some “supernatural” means. Deists believe that human beings have “free will” and have responsibility for choosing how they live in relation to natural laws that govern the world.
It is sometimes said that deists believe that God created the world, set it in operation, and then took no further interest in it. But this idea comes from a misunderstanding of an old analogy that compared God to a “watchmaker” and the world to a “watch.” This old analogy was only intended to say that from the “intelligent” design of a watch, it is logical to infer the existence of an “intelligent” watchmaker. Likewise, from the “intelligent design” that is seen in the universe, deists infer the existence of an “intelligent” maker, called “God.”
Christian Deists believe that God does take an ongoing interest in the world and humanity but God does not control the world or humanity. Human beings are “free agents in a free world.” A “free agent” is someone who has authority and ability to choose his/her actions and who may make mistakes. A “free world” is one which ordinarily operates as it is designed to operate but failures and accidents may occur.
Christian deism is opposed to the doctrine of predestination in which everything that happens is thought to be “the will of God.” John Calvin was a proponent of the theory of predestination in which God allegedly determines everything that happens, whether good or bad. For example, this theory is heard when a person is killed in an automobile accident and someone says, “God must have a purpose in this.” Christian Deists reject this kind of belief.
Christian Deists believe that it is never “God’s will” for anyone to be sick or injured. Christian Deists believe that anything that is destructive to human life is “bad.” These bad things may be caused by accident or by human action. For example, a respiratory illness may be caused by an accidental infection or may be caused by a person choosing to smoke cigarettes. God does not make a person sick or well. Our health is partly within our own control and sometimes beyond our control. God gives our bodies and minds certain natural powers to heal many illnesses but God does not directly intervene to heal by some “supernatural” action.
If God directly intervened in human events, we would no longer be “free agents in a free world.” We would be like puppets controlled by God. Such control by God would cost us the very thing that makes us individual human beings — our freedom to think and act for ourselves.
God can indirectly intervene in the world through human beings. For example,God can heal through the efforts of physicians and nurses. God can care for the poor through charitable persons and through programs designed by compassionate leaders and legislators. According to Jesus, our mission is to create the “kingdom of God on earth.” God can work through each of us if we will follow God’s law of love for each other. We are God’s representatives on earth if we do God’s will. Each of us can contribute in some way toward the development of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Christian Deists believe that Jesus was a deist. Jesus taught that there are two basic laws of God governing humankind. The first law is that life comes from God and we are to use it as God intends, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the talents (money). The second law is that God intends for human beings to live by love for each other, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. (Note: The parable of the talents is explained in the essay “How Can You Love God? The parable of the good Samaritan is explained in the essay “Love Your Neighbor.”)
Jesus summarized these two basic “commandments” (or laws) of God as “love for God and love for neighbor.” These two commandments were known to Jesus from the Hebrew scriptures but Jesus expanded the definition of “neighbor” to include everyone. “Love for God” means having appreciation for God as the creator of the world and the source of human life. “Love for neighbor” means having appreciation for the value of every human life. These are not laws or “truths” that Jesus received through some supernatural “revelation.” In his “parable of the sower,” Jesus taught that the “word of God” is known naturally because it is sown “in the heart” of everyone.
Even the apostle Paul, who was a Jew, recognized that God’s laws are known naturally by everyone. Paul wrote, “When Gentiles (non-Jews) who do not have the (Mosaic) law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the (Mosaic) law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).
In his teachings, Jesus used examples from the natural world and from human nature to explain basic truths about life. In his parables, Jesus spoke of mustard seeds, wheat, weeds, fishing nets, pearls, vineyards, fig trees, salt, candle light and sheep to illustrate his points. Jesus also used illustrations from human nature to teach basic concepts such as repentance, forgiveness, justice, and love.
Jesus believed that it is God’s will for people to love (appreciate) God and to love (appreciate) each other. God should be loved (appreciated) as creator of the the world and as the source of human life. We should show our love (appreciation) for each other because happiness comes to us as we live in harmony, or unity, with each other. Christian deism is based on appreciation for all creation and on appreciation for every human life.
Christian Deists do not worship Jesus as God and do not believe in the theory of atonement that claims that Jesus had to die as a sacrifice to pay the “death penalty” for humankind and save them from the “wrath” of God. Christian Deists do not view God as a whimsical tyrant who sends plagues and pestilence to punish people on earth and who plans to torture people in “hell” in the future. Christian Deists reject these superstitious ideas as products of human hatred and a failure to recognize God’s natural laws of love for others.
Christian Deists consider themselves to be disciples (students) of Jesus because Jesus taught the natural laws of God. But Christian Deists recognize that Jesus was only human. Jesus had to struggle with his own times of disappointment, sorrow, anger, prejudice, impatience, and despair, just as other human beings struggle with these experiences. Jesus never claimed to be perfect but he was committed to following God’s natural laws of love.
Jesus called for people to follow God’s laws (commandments) so the “kingdom of God” could come “on earth as it is in heaven.” As Jesus preached the “gospel” (good news) that the “kingdom of God is at hand,” the Romans viewed Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary seeking to liberate the Jews from Roman rule. Jesus refused to stop preaching his “gospel” even though he knew that he was risking crucifixion, the usual Roman penalty for revolutionaries. Jesus called for his followers to take this same risk, “If a man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
After his crucifixion, Jesus’ cross became a symbol of commitment to establishing the “kingdom of God” (obedience of God’s laws) on earth. Christian Deists are committed to following God’s natural laws, as summarized in the two “commandments” to love God and love our neighbor.